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I almost missed him. I let the dog out in the early morning air. As I looked alongside the house, I saw steam rising from our side doorstep. Could we really be losing so much heat from that part of the house? No. A patch of orange twitched by a broken piece of concrete. The steam was coming from the open beak of an oriole, resting from his gathering. I couldn’t take my eyes off him—still as stone, wings neatly folded, while these tiny puffs of breath pulsed out from his yellowed beak. I had never seen a bird breathe before. That image is now etched on my memory, an icon of fragile and fleeting (yet strong) vitality.
My mind couldn’t stop there, though. The vapor of vitality—a mist in motion—swirling just in front of his coal black eyes drew me immediately to Genesis 2:7 and Job 33:4. Divine, almighty breath—that’s what gave way to earthly life. Divine breath accounts for Adam’s breath, for Job’s breath, for your breath and mine. And for the little puffs of air going in and out of that little bird on a little doorstep of a little house in a little town in a little country in a turning world.
God, you know, is three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. And the Spirit in Scripture is often referred to as divine breath (Ps. 33:6), just as the Father is referenced as divine Speaker and the Son as divine Word. The Holy Spirit, in this sense, is the breath of life behind all breaths of life. The oriole’s breath points back to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who worked jointly with the eternal Word and Speaker to make everything that moves and breathes. Behind breath, my friends, is not mere earthly respiration but a divine person. But the divine persons of the Godhead act inseparably. They are one. So, that’s really just another way of saying that behind every bird’s breath is the Trinity, who speaks so subtly, so powerfully, so comprehensively, that we barely notice, even when it’s perched on our door step.
Oh God, help us to notice! And then, my breathing maker, help us to worship.
Here’s the prose I wrote later that night:
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